Research Fellows Directory
Professor Michael Reece
Queen Mary, University of London
Energy is all around us in many different forms, form example, heat and sound. The purpose of our project is to develop new materials that can usefully convert energy from one form to another. The materials that I will work on are thermoelectrics that can harvest waste heat and then convert it into useful electrical energy. A good application of this is in cars. Only about 30% of the energy from fuel goes into driving a car, most of it is lost as waste heat. In 2011 BMW will have a thermoelectric device connected to the exhaust system of some of its cars. This will result in a 5% fuel saving. The other type of material that I am interested is piezoelectrics. These convert vibration energy into electrical signals. They are used in SONAR and ultrasound imaging equipment. They are also used in aerospace engines to monitor the performance of the engines and to sense if there are any problems. I aim to make materials that are more sensitive and can operate at much high temperature (> 1,000°C). These materials can not only save energy, but also lives.
I have set up at Queen Mary University of London a new technique for processing materials. This has opened up the possibility of developing new materials with superior properties to existing materials. The technique is known as Spark Plasma Sintering (SPS). The materials that I am developing are best made by densifying powders at high temperature (usually > 1,000°C). This process is known as sintering, and produces polycrystalline materials that consist of small grains of materials joined together. This is how most ceramic materials are made, including household items such as plates and mugs. The sintering of some materials can take place at much lower temperatures. A good everyday example is ice. If you buy ice cubes in a bag at the beginning of the summer and store them in the freezer, by the end of the summer they become stuck together to form a lump.